Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Wheatear wonderland

The Safari seized the chance to do a bit of a sea watch last week as another Atlantic storm blew through. It was getting a bit rough out there as the tide rose but it didn't deter a couple of fishermen.

The torrential rain made focusing the scope tricky but there wasn't a lot to see any way. The local gulls caught a few small fish by plunging into the rough stuff just beyond thee distance the fishermen could cast, an unidentified duck flew through at the edge of the murk and a handful of Sandwich Terns past closer than usual southwards.  Easily 'bird of the session' was a dark bulky juvenile Pomerine Skua that came out of the grey to the north and briefly sat on the sea at the edge of the grey. We were about to try to ge ta phone-scope pic of it when it lifted and headed out in to the gloom again. After about another 20 minutes and increasingly heavy rain we called it a day.
We were out on the beach with the mutt the following morning and really didn't expect to bump into an exhausted/injured Purple Sandpiper, about the only thing of note we did see apart from a small number of Wheatears buzzing around on the cliffs.

Phone pic of the Purple Sandpiper

On the return leg of our walk we could find no trace of the Purple Sandpiper, there were quite a few Herring Gulls kicking around on the sea wall in the general area and we hoped it had recovered and flown off and not disappeared down one of the gullet of one of the gulls.

The pools left by the receding tide are full of small Sand Gobies at the moment. Seeing them is easy enough as you can spot their shadow on the sand as they dart away at your approach but getting a pic is another matter. It requires stealth and patience as usually just as we've found one in good light and keeping still the mutt charges through the pool and disturbs both the fish and all the fine sand making the water muddy and impossible to see through for a good few minutes.

We took the big camera with us for the afternoon dog walk as it was nice and bright and sunny. We hoped that a couple of the morning Wheatears would still be about. They were and as a bonus we bumped in to good friend PL who had had the same idea.

Turned out to be a good move as there were still several Wheatears at various points along the cliffs, they were very active taking advantage of the fine weather bringing out lots of flies. A supporting cast of a few Small Tortoiseshells, a Carrion Crow breaking open a Mussel it had found washed up on the beach and a young Herring Gull standing sentinel over the proceedings along with a handful of Pied Wagtails, one of which looks like it has lost a foot. We filled our boots!

The Wheatears didn't disappoint either, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing they eventually gave themselves up settling in convenient places and poses.

Our final pic of the day looks like it could have been taken on the wind-sculpted walls of Wadi Rum in the Jordanian desert rather than the artificial cliffs of North Shore Blackpool - it's probably our favourite of the set
While enjoying the Wheatears we happened to notice that one of the Pied Wagtails was very pale and wasn't a Pied Wagtail at all but a White Wagtail fresh in from the continent. A nice little bonus fro the days birding.

We've also had the moth trap out several times recently. Plagued by Large Yellow Underwings we've been - plagues we tell you - - plagued! But we've had none of the other yellow underwing species. Like Small Tortoiseshells they seem to be noticeable by their absence this summer.  Fortunately just in the last few days or so Small Tortoiseshells have become numerous at last, and we've started to get Lesser Yellow Underwings too, nowhere near as common as their larger cousins but still the second most numerous species in the trap.
We had a little run of Willow Beauties.
Setaceous Hebrew Characters have started to come to the trap.
As have these pesky things - they're often lurking unseen underneath the egg boxes so it's always wise to watch where you're putting your fingers in the trap at this time of year. They're too cold to fly away first thing in the morning so are much more inclined to use their sting, as we've found to our our cost in previous years!

Another sunny afternoon visit to the beach saw us attach the 1.4x converter to the big lens - it's a while since that's been out of the box! We were hoping for some more Wheatears but there weren't any on the cliffs so we had make do with what was on the beach.

Juvenile Cormorant

Common Gull - just beginning to arrive back for the winter

Great Black Backed Gull

Sandwich Tern
Even wit hthe advantage of the converter on the lens giving us extra reach we still managed to take one step too many and flushed it - damn; we hate doing that!


Where to next? We've been back to the wetlands and had a great time and  done some more moth trapping to tell you about

In the meantime let us know who's got all the 'W's in your outback.

Remember - enjoy your local wildlife but stay safe keep that social distance up.


Sunday, 30 August 2020

Go back go back go back go back - our grouse about grouse shooting

The Safari is but one of many who would like to see the end of the extremely environmentally damaging hobby (it's not sport!) that is driven grouse shooting. "But why?" do you ask "what harm is there in using living animals as target practice?" "If you've got a few bob more than the average Joe why shouldn't you pay a few thousand bucks to kill as many Red Grouse in a short a time as possible, it's not as if they're endangered or anything is it?" "And anyway they all get eaten in posh restaurants don't they?"
No they're not endangered, more the opposite; they're 'farmed' to produce excessively unnatural numbers far more than the carrying capacity of the environment so that Mr I've-got-a-bigger-wad-than-you has a chance of shooting 100 in a day rather than just 10. 
But why should that bother you, they're still wild birds living out their lives in a wild environment aren't they? Unless of course you don't like the idea that living beings are being killed and maimed for target practice fun but then that make you a left wing commie pinko or worse an animal rights 'activist' or even worse a bunny- or even a tree-hugger - - when did doing or even thinking the compassionate thing become the 'wrong' thing and demand a derogatory term from the rest of society?
And then there's all the landscape scale destruction that goes with this perverse pastime - you can't call it a sport. Now if the grouse had AK-47s to shoot back that might be more sporting!
Damaged landscape - patchwork quilt of burnt areas
Ruined landscape - spot the patchwork quilt of burnt areas

One of those Red Grouse in one of those burnt patches

But 'They' will tell you that moorland is rarer than Tropical Rain Forest - which is true but so are golf course  and urban areas as a world-wide habitat. They don't tell you of the awful cost their precious moorland comes at though. The thousands of incinerated animals during the burns, 

Adder - becoming increasingly scarce but often a victim of the burning

the total lack of trees due to burning and sheep grazing - which should and could be present. See the pic below of a lone self-seeded conifer (OK so it's a weed that shouldn't be there but is growing quite nicely thank you) almost at the summit of the highest point in SW Scotland.


And where's all the upland scrub of Bilbery, Juniper Gorse, covered in lichens and mosses - burned to a frazzle
Moss growing on Juniper
They've neglected to tell you that Atlantic fringe temperate rainforest is a truly rare habitat, mainly because most of it has been destroyed and the tiny pockets that remain can't spread due to over-grazing by sheep and in some cases deer.
Red Deer numbers are artificially high due to lack of predators and winter feeding in some areas
Then there's the knock on effects that affect us. Peat stained water running off the denuded areas cost a fortune to clean before it reaches our taps - who pay? Us in our watter bills, not those that caused it. Downstream flooding is made worse by their drainage and lack of sufficiently dense natural vegetation to hold the water back, although there are some projects to re-wet upland peat, who pays for that damage? Not them, us through higher taxes for flood defence and higher insurance premiums.
And then there's just the almost lack of any wildlife interest in the uplands. OK they'll say what about the waders and yes their extensive and excessive predator control probably does help breeding Lapwing, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Snipe, Redshank but their land management doesn't help other upland species like Redstart, Tree Pipit, Pied Flycatcher, Black Grouse, Whinchat,  and a whole host of small mammals and invertebrates. And of course anything with a hooky beak gets suspiciously 'disappeared' with their populations artificially low and almost impossible to expand their ranges in to areas they once frequented, Golden Eagle, Hen Harrier, and still Buzzard and Red Kite in some areas. 
But it shouldn't be like this and hopefully the status quo won't last much longer. Another way is possible.
It's great that there are a few places where the sight below can still be found but this should be the norm not the exception.
Common Lizard on a mossy stump in a wet upland-fringe woodland
Our brother lives in NE Italy. There between the major regional centre of Trieste and the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana (they are only 60 miles (100km) apart lies a National Park which hosts these magnificent animals. Not only the Brown Bears but also Wolves and Lynx!

He took these from the hide run by Slovenian Bears. Can't wait to go!!!
Our uplands do have space for amazing sights like this...if only there was the political will from government and the 'vested' land owning interests.
 We've got as a 10 point plan for better , more natural, wilder uplands for all to enjoy.
1. Black all drainage above the in-bye
2. No burning of heather - cut after mid-October and before end of the year. If too wet or too steep to cut - tough! Use the cuttings to block the drains mentioned above.
3. All tracks not shown on the last edition of the 1 inch to a mile OS maps to be dismantled and re-vegetated.
4. No predator control i.e. no traps, snares, stink pits, vermin shooting (what is vermin other than an out-dated Victorian term anyway) 
5. Any trace of banned poisons get a mandatory prison sentence for senior land manager and land owner (assuming the land 'owner' isn't an off-shore 'trust')
6. No medication of wild animals either medicated grit and catch-and-dose
7. No farming subsidy for any land seen as patchwork heather on aerial photos - Agriculture is not the primary land use
8. No produce to be eaten off-estate, i.e. in the general food-chain, unless shot with non-toxic ammunition
9. No mass releases of non-native species. Shoots should begin the process of eliminating Pheasant, Red Legged Partridge, Canada Geese, Muntjac and Sika Deer from the landscape where possible.
10. 50% grants should be available for fencing upland gullies, cloughs, valleys, to at least 100m from their edge to allow natural regeneration. No planting required and any non-native conifers self-seeding should be removed.
11. OK we said it was a 10 point plan but we've added an extra one. All clear-fell forestry plantations to be allowed to regenerate naturally but again self-sown conifers except Scots Pine to be removed. Additional timber forestry can be started on adjacent suitable land with the proviso that once it's harvested it is allowed to revert to native woodland.

Lets try that for starters and see how we get on in 10 years - see if we need any tweeks.

Where to next? Sunshine on the cliffs maybe?

In the meantime let us know if you've got a bear behind in your outback.

Stay safe ,enjoy your local wildlife but keep that social distance.

That lot should do for starters - if the sheep and grouse business models can't manage that then it's time they were cosigned to history, certainly the latter.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Dodging the showers at the wetlands

The Safari met up with the South-side gang for a bit of wildlifing and good old fashioned banter at Martin Mere WT reserve a few days ago. As we passed through Infection Control and out into the wilderness beyond the first thing we spotted was a family of young Mallard ducklings snoozing in the grass by the path with eh-up muvver watching over them a couple of feet away. As cute as buttons they were. And not the only brood of young ducklings we saw either.

From the Discovery Hide the in-your-face cool wind meant everything was on the far side of the pool trying to take advantage of whatever shelter they could find.  As usual there was a bit of a Black Headed Gull flock thing going on but that part of it we could see held no Mediterranean Gulls.

There were a couple of Common Sandpipers footling around on the muddy edges and a Green Sandpiper came in to view briefly as did a Ringed Plover. So we decided to wander round that way to see if we could get closer views and inspect more of the gull flock.  

The gulls were now nearer and broadside on so making checking for odd-ones-out a lot easier not that we could find any and to make matters worse the Ringed Plover and sandpipers had done a bunk too.

The gull flock did hold a few sleepy Lapwings, always good to see this lovely bird and this year they seem to have had a good breeding season, at least in this area, with plenty of local sites reporting good numbers.

A quick stop at the Feeding Station was quiet to start with and no sign of the stars of the show, the Brown Rats. Slowly birds started to return to to the feeders, Goldfinches and Chaffinches and a couple of Great Tits but as numbers built a little male Sparrowhawk belted through like greased lightning scattering all and sundry. It was that fast we must have blinked as it was going through as we totally missed it and right under our nose it was too!
A quick look from the Harrier Hide gave us lots of Gadwalls and an unlikely 'family' of a pair of Little Grebes with a young Great Crested Grebe sat with them.

With not great deal on offer A had spotted a new construction off to the right he'd never seen before not having visited for quite some time. It was the new hide - "How on earth do you get out there?" he asked. Easy-peasy walk this way...Turned out it was a good move rain came down heavily on the way keeping all others away and giving us an empty hide to enjoy our lunch and some stunning views of a Marsh Harrier as it swooped low over the water disturbing Lapwings, Black Tailed Godwits and a lovely wisp of about a dozen or so Snipe.

A superb twenty minutes or so of aerobatic skills in the stiff breeze. We've still never seen them catch anything other than gull chicks and dead goose/swan carrion but as this one appears to have a full crop we assume it must have eaten something fairly sizeable not so long ago. 

Back at the visitor centre there is a ool of captive ducks that we almost invariably ignore apart to think should we take a pic of the tame Eiders???  Well today we did.

Not much else was seen on our travels around the rest of the reserve but we did have our first Common Darter of the season. It was a bit gloomy and the little dragon wouldn't face the front but we fired off a few shots anyway.

All too soon our time was up and we had to leave. A great day out in good company.

Where to next? More of the same coming up.shortly.

In the meantime let us know who's doing the swooping in your outback.

Enjoy your wildlife, there's plenty right outside your front door. But take care and maintain that safe social distance.